Opinion on Epic's Unreal Engine 4 Marketplace: Issues
I want to start by making it very clear that I think the marketplace team is doing great and that Stephanie Markoff has been absolutely fantastic to work with.
On September 3rd, 2014, the UE4 Marketplace was launched. I released my first asset on the marketplace on June 30th, 2015.
A lot of people come to me for advice about selling on the marketplace, as well as my thoughts and opinions on the marketplace. I have heavily experimented with the marketplace as a seller, a buyer, and an overall annoying member of the Unreal community.
I decided to post my general concerns on my blog to hopefully spark some discussion, as well as having a page to link to when someone asks me my thoughts instead of reiterating my opinions.
I am an outsider of Epic and there could be things in this writing that are just plain wrong or are terrible ideas. If so, please reach out to me and I will edit accordingly.
I love the marketplace. I love being a seller. However, a big part of me feels like the marketplace is ‘one of those random small teams’ at Epic and that the marketplace is one of Epic’s lower priorities. The marketplace staff is great, but seem resource deprived.
My issues and concerns with the marketplace are more geared toward the backend, not the frontend. A better and more automated backend would allow the support staff to help out sellers in better and faster ways. A better backend would also greatly improve the marketplace seller portal.
A pipe dream perhaps, but an added benefit of a better backend would be the support for third party marketplace tools. I have already created a proof of concept that tracks marketplace assets per user and reports the historical rating history of all tracked assets, so they can be notified when their asset rating changes. This was a proof of concept and much more can be learned about my third party marketplace proposal here:
Third-Party Marketplace Support Proposal
It is also possible for a third party to create their own frontend for the marketplace, which could potentially offer some very nice integrations with seller’s own websites. Because a third party frontend could be made, I believe this merits some consideration in allowing the public to submit pull requests for the marketplace view of the launcher without giving the public access to any critical or secure API endpoints. You can read more about this at:
Creating A Custom Marketplace Frontend
And while on the subject of securing the marketplace API, I will link my investigations into various holes of the API I wrote some time ago. This document is now out of date and some issues have been fixed, but there are other ways to circumvent/exploit some of these API calls further.
Building a Free Marketplace Through Crowdsourcing
The following opinions are offered in no particular order:
Two Search Boxes
Currently on the UE4 Marketplace webpage, there exists two types of search. The topmost one searches ‘the Unreal universe’ for everything except marketplace info.
The bottom one searches only for marketplace info. It is fairly easy to accidentally use the wrong search here. Instead, having just one search box and folding in marketplace results into the ‘everything Unreal’ search would be preferred.
Adding an advanced search dropdown with filters would go a long way here to not just improve the usefulness of the header search, but would allow the marketplace page to default to a ‘marketplace filter’. This would also improve the discoverability of marketplace assets when users search for things as they might find a marketplace asset more useful than a forum post of info.
Exact Searching Only
All Marketplace searching is done by exact searching only.
This really should be done with fuzzy searching or approximate string
matching. This is the technical term for what the community wants.
Searching for ‘particle’ and for ‘particles’ should not lead to different and impartial results. For example, this pack:
Will not show up when using the search term ‘particles’ because its description uses the words ‘particle effects’ instead of particles.
No Seller Searching
Users have no way of searching directly for a marketplace seller. Instead they have to find an asset sold by their desired seller, then go to their seller’s page which isn’t accessible in any other way.
Seller Page Comment Boxes
Many sellers don’t even know people can leave comments on their seller pages.
Asset Images – Sizing And Cropping
Even if a seller follows submission guidelines for images exactly as written, it is not guaranteed the Marketplace will show the right image for the right location, and it’s not guaranteed the image will be shown at the required size either. The submission guidelines for images are out of date and are meant for a much older feature and asset display layout.
Image requirements and guidelines should change so that they properly represent what customers will see. If the layout is going to stick to a responsive fluid sizing for featured items, .PSD and .PNG templates should be given to sellers to show exactly how to create their images to avoid these issues. These templates should include things like title safe areas, cropping guidelines, etc.
This issue makes the sellers look less professional and thus lowers the perceived quality of the marketplace.
Asset Images – More Sizing Issues
This issue also makes the sellers look less professional and thus lowers the percieved quality of the marketplace.
The preview images on an asset’s page are also laid out in a responsive way, causing image cut offs and other scaling issues. There is very little respect for aspect ratios for these image previews.
The scrolling thumbnail list has all of its images at the wrong aspect ratio, regardless of the size of the browser viewport. This can make some seller art that is designed to look good as a thumbnail look horrid.
The ‘big’ preview image is also not aspect ratio constrained, however this is less of an issue as with this layout it would be much harder to keep the original aspect ratio. However, one huge improvement is that the whole ‘Buy’ button area can be more responsive than it currently is. When the viewport shrinks to the point where the preview image far exceeds the its original width aspect ratio, the Supported Platforms, Supported Engine Versions, Share, and Buy button can become vertically stacked in one column instead of two. This would potentially allow the block to become less tall and to be moved up a bit, so that the ‘big’ preview image doesn’t need to be as tall, thus better preserving the aspect ratio.
Although this may contradict a bit with what I just wrote, Epic does do this when you squish the page real small. When it gets to this size though, the text is shrunk so much that now the opposite problem occurs where now so much space is wasted. Here, the gray box could still be stacked vertically as is shown here, but also to the right of the above info when at this size. There is plenty of width here to have them side by side while shortening this section as a whole. Also, while things are already being shrunk so small, why not make the 'big' image shorter to once again preserve aspect ratio?
Asset Images – Crazy Bandwidth
Every single asset image here is actually the full 1920x1080 image being scaled down. This greatly slows down page load speeds and puts more load on the web servers. When a seller submits a marketplace image, your backend should automatically generate thumbnails of those images for displaying in situations like this. Users often download far more image data than they ever need. This is even more significant in the already resource hogging launcher, where simply browsing the marketplace or even accidentally loading the launcher can be painfully slow or in some cases incredibly expensive on metered connections.
After browsing 10 assets, without even flipping through any images, I quickly went through 50MB of data. This is simply ridiculous.
No HTTP/2 Support
Because the marketplace frontend serving web server does not support HTTP/2, which currently every major browser including mobile supports, even more bandwidth is being consumed as well as webserver resources. The marketplace team removed real-time sales data with the reason of ‘the servers couldn’t keep up’, which is infuriating because it seems that there is no effort to rectify this.
Depending on how the launcher was created, it could also be possible to switch to HTTP/2 as well. This would be a factor in helping remove the launcher’s ‘slugishness’.
There are a lot of marketplace assets, which is great. Having categories is great. The UX problem with categories and marketplace navigation is that it is hard to go back to them if you’re several pages deep within the marketplace. A sticky header would be a very welcome addition.
The launcher already has an excellent header on each of its marketplace pages. It just needs to be ‘sticky’ and not scroll with the page.
The Vault can get easily out of hand with a large number of assets. Categories for the vault would also be helpful.
One user's forum thread suggestion regarding the library organization.
Finding Library Updates
Finding library updates can be annoying. Click for reference.
Others feel the same way one year ago.
- Forum thread
- Another forum thread
- Annoyed at update notifications, 09/2016
- Similar request
- Bonus: Show Update sizes request
The Most Annoying Back Button
When browsing the marketplace tab in the launcher, you are given this ‘Back’ button on any asset page. This is the only time a Back button is displayed and it should always go back a page in the marketplace. Instead, this ‘Back’ button provokes a launcher wide back action and makes navigation infuriating. For example, say you are looking at an asset but want to check out your library to see if you already have something similar. You decide you do so you go back to the marketplace section. Remember there is no ‘Back’ button unless you are on the Marketplace tab, so you have to click the Marketplace tab on the left. You then click the back button to go back to a category or search page, but suddenly you end up right back in your library. This behavior even exists across major tabs.
Click here for a video example of this painful behavior.
No Shopping Cart
Currently there is no shopping cart feature of the marketplace. I’m aware one is coming soon however after two years of constant requests.
Honestly I don’t care about having a shopping cart, but the community would yell at me if I didn’t bring it up. Someone did bring up a good point that is absolutely worth mentioning however:
If you are not American and are buying assets in something other than USD, buying assets one at a time is more expensive due to currency conversion fees. For example, if you’re buying two things for 5 EUR, your bank / payment processor will charge you 5 EUR + fee + 5 EUR + fee, as opposed to 10 EUR + fee.
Filters, Listings, Top Charts, All Missing
Features like being able to filter for price, ratings and engine versions, sub categories and more advanced listing views, and top charts are all things that people expect from a marketplace.
These things do not inhibit discovery, they increase it. When a user has to go through a bunch of assets they aren’t interested in for either price constraints, low ratings, file size limits, or simply just too old, it prevents the assets they would buy from being easily visible and no one wins.
Top charts reward sellers with top tier content with more visibility, promotes competition based on quality, and does not freeze out new sellers if done properly. Top charts should be time constrained, i.e. Past Week, so that a product with a really fantastic launch but zero sustained sales doesn’t lock a place in the chart.
Top Paid and Top Grossing also improve the perceived quality of assets across the entire marketplace. Higher quality assets naturally sell better, and if they are listed on top lists, people can easily find the more premium assets instead of rummaging, buying, regretting, and telling others how they got a bad asset and no longer trust quality of the marketplace.
Literally every marketplace that has achieved maturity has these features. The Epic Marketplace has shown very little perceived growth in terms of systems and infrastructure. This would be a huge correction to that perception. Only a momentary glance at the forums is enough to know how people are frustrated with the lack of marketplace development.
Guidelines Inconsistent And Sometimes Just Wrong
First, there are two separate set of guidelines:
While similar, these guidelines are not identical. There should only be one master set of guidelines.
The guidelines are often vague or very specific, and then their enforcement is also variable. This leads the community to think the marketplace staff is not a cohesive team but a group of people who clock in and clock out and do what they want. Every bad asset that gets through that clearly violates the guidelines and every vague rejection notice that doesn’t cite anything specific amplifies this problem.
I believe writing a more formal and more detailed submission guideline would solve a lot of this ambiguity for both reviewers and the community. You can see my effort to do so here: http://ue4.style
Epic staff often replies ‘thanks for your feedback’ and ‘we are making changes to address concerns’ but here is an example of a guideline and submission issue that’s been around for literally years now.
Navigating the UE4 web marketplace, you're bound to find a few quirks. Like this one. First, the recommend list is showing a list of assets by the seller who's seller's page I'm on. A bit redundant. Also, notice the extra padding for no reason?
Every little quirk again lowers the perceived quality of the marketplace as a whole.
Hide or At Least Obfuscate Seller Contact Info
Marketplace seller emails are listed in an easily parsed form. This means marketplace seller emails are subject to spam bots that work by bots that scrape webpages for email addresses.
Hiding them completely for users who do not own the item is one suggestion from the community. Alternatively, another suggestion is obfuscating them if you don’t own them. The simple act of writing the shown email above as ‘tihomirvfx at gmail dot com’ cuts down on spam bots massively.
I've advocated this for a long time now. Found a forum post by someone else created two months ago on the marketplace seller only section of the forums also concerned about this.
Note: If you change your seller support email on file, you have to tell the marketplace staff to update your assets as due to the next topic, its manually copy pasted by marketplace staff.
Contact And Support A Manual 'Hack'
Instead of making contact and support details for assets a first class citizen in the data backend, they are tacked on to the end of 'Technical Details' by simply adding an 'h1' tag to make it appear as if its own section.
The fact that the contact and support fields are not proper members of asset data irks me a bit. It makes me feel like sellers supporting their assets is not really a concern for the higher-ups at Epic as they won't allocate the backend guy to rectify this, and instead have the marketplace staff perform more tedious and error prone manual work.
Duplication of Data
The launcher and the website share API endpoints, and often the same data. What I find curious is that even though Slate has a Rich Text widget, the launcher has to pull down technical details in a different way. Another small thing that by itself doesn't really matter, but when looked at alongside the bandwidth issues, sluggishness of the marketplace, and the ton of manual work the marketplace staff has to do behind the scenes; it adds to the feeling that the higher-ups at Epic treat the marketplace as a low priority item and as long as it works, don't put too much effort to improve it. Again, this may not actually be the case, but this is what it feels like.
Feature Regression, Not Improvement
Touching more on things that make the marketplace feel like a low priority for Epic executives is the fact that sometimes great features get removed.
One great thing about the marketplace was the real-time sales data available on the marketplace dashboard. That has been removed and now the sales report only updates every 24 hours, meaning you can't see today's sales until tomorrow.
Waiting 24 hours to see sales isn't too much a big deal for me, but the fact that this nicety was removed instead of expanded on has angered many sellers and is just more salt in the wound that is the marketplace seller's shared frustration over the lack of marketplace development. More analytics is something many sellers have requested, and instead we get data removed.
The reasoning for this is that the real-time sales reports were putting too much of a strain on the marketplace backend servers.
Marketplace Seller only forum thread regarding this.
This again feels like the result of the marketplace asset count increasing but remaining a low priority system for Epic. There are many possible optimization points (see some of the previous issues) that can be done on the frontend to free up a ton of resources for just browsing, many which the community has been requesting for over two years. If feedback is being listened to, why has development slowed to the point of actually going backwards?
Again, there are probably other reasons surrounding this situation, but it feels like Epic is starving the marketplace of resources.
Another issue contributing to the 'low priority' feeling is the lack of analytics. This can only be solved with marketplace development and has been an issue for sellers since launch and is rarely discussed by Epic.
Currently the list of available analytics regarding assets for sellers on the seller portal is:
- Number of units sold
Thats it. Seriously. That is all. There are reports from sellers that their history of units sold has also been truncated, so they don't even have numbers going back to asset release date.
Communication To Marketplace Staff
Communicating to the marketplace staff is both incredibly convenient and excruciatingly painful. After what appeared to be a ticket system failure, then having two ticket systems, then a merging of ticket systems, many requests were lost and often sellers have to ask 'do you have a ticket for this?' and 'can you please check on this request for me?'.
I believe this has been getting better however, but it still can be an issue.
Also, if you ever need to ask the marketplace staff about multiple things, please take this approach for best results:
Write an email per request. Meaning if you want to change your asset description and change an image, send two emails. It's not uncommon for your request to have the first request fulfilled and the second request ignored, possibly due to how the marketplace ticketing system works.
Wait at least 10 minutes between request emails. If you send two support emails too quickly, there is a chance you won't get a confirmation email on the second request. Sometimes this results in a ticket made, other times it won't. It's impossible to know if this happens without asking marketplace staff or submitting a third request.
Communication From Marketplace Staff and Epic
Currently marketplace sellers are experiencing a shared frustration that is communication from the marketplace team is infrequent and inadequate.
When something goes wrong with the marketplace system, panic ensues. When the issue is solved, most of the time the reasoning about the issue is purposely vague. Most of these communications that quickly reach the seller community happen through Discord and not through official channels.
When a rise of feedback occurs about negative things, it's often to see staff members reply 'thanks for the feedback, we are taking steps to address this.' Months go by and when asked for a follow-up to that statement, either none is given or usually something along the lines of 'priorities changed.' Very few times has Epic been clear that 'we are doing this, and we have achieved this, based on your feedback regarding this'. This creates a sort of feeling that the marketplace staff has their hands tied and while they mean well, they might be in an impossible situation where they know what issues exist and simply can't fix them, further adding to the 'low priority' issue I mentioned previously.
Note: Some of these thread links are in a marketplace seller only section of the forums. The marketplace seller section of the forums, named Creators Hub, is not bustling with activity, so it's fairly easy to keep aware of threads even if read once a week.
- This entire thread
- Condensed seller feedback thread, that was STICKIED a year ago, with no Epic responses
- Plans for a Marketplace Roadmap by Epic 9 months ago, still no manifestation in any official form.
- This post written by not me explaining this exact feeling 3 months ago.
- Month ago, seller thread asking about this issue, no response.
- Two years in the making:
- Shopping Cart, Search rolled out over several months. Improvements are to be discussed in the future.
When rejecting an asset, the rejection notice from the marketplace staff can be pretty vague, unclear, or simply not given. People often report this in Discord/Slack, but there are forum threads indicating this has been a long-term problem as well.
This by far isn't every little thing I'd like to change. But its a start. Things like sellers editing their assets, changes to the rating system, seller promo codes, and more. I feel like in order to get those features however, we need to fix the current issues to have a stronger foundation to build upon.
I love the marketplace. It has greatly benefited me as a seller, a buyer, and as a professional freelancer. It pains me to think of the marketplace as an Epic executive ignored and low priority branch, and I hope I'm proven wrong and that this is not the case. The 30% cut from sellers hurts every month when sellers don't see continual improvement of the system and more engaging feedback. Feedback needs to be an open two-way street for sellers to feel like the system respects them.
If there is one thing I want Epic to take away from this write-up, if they read it at all, I would absolutely love to see the marketplace team be devoted more and permanent resources to further marketplace development. Empowering the marketplace team by giving them tools to remove the human element out of the marketplace processes will allow humans to spend less time dealing with sellers asking for support and more time supporting sellers by keeping a healthy marketplace and continual improvement.